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And now for something funny …

One problem with bureaucracies is their tendency to engage in activities mindlessly or only for the purpose of self-justification. The program surrounding the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage seems to have fallen into this trap.

Intangible heritage, according to UNESCO, is all that which is cultural but not tangible like monuments and objects. Hence it includes things such as “oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices” which, in their totality, are a demonstration of diversity. Accordingly, the Convention has set it as its goal to document all such customs as a means of safeguarding cultural diversity. For Austria, the process of review and approval of related representative traditions has been delegated to a national advisory panel comprising representatives of federal ministries, regional governments, social and cultural experts.

Today the Austrian media have publicized a mishap of this committee. One of the cultural practices to have made it on the representative list is, namely, the Viennese ball tradition. The application, which was brought forward in 2010 by a member of the organizing committee of the Lawyers’ Ball, included a list of seventeen ‘typical’ Viennese balls, one of these being the Corps or Fraternity Ball, known among locals as the ball of the extreme right-wing.


Mischievously one can say that the extreme right-wing is indeed an Austrian tradition which fights for its preservation and that, therefore, the committee’s decision was not even a Freudian slip but simply honest. The mishap’s revelation is equally telling, coming about through the self-advertisement of the Corps Ball within its circle of ‘friends’ as a ball with an official UNESCO seal!

Joking apart—it might be sensible to scrutinize the whole idea of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ and whether the best way to uphold cultural diversity is by making lists of national and regional customs.